NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Student newspapers go missing

The disappearance of up to 450 copies of the NECC Observer was discovered by student staff on Friday morning, Dec. 11.

Observer staff are unsure why anyone would want to destroy or take the newspapers in bulk. The only potentially controversial story in the Dec. 2 issue of the Observer was the front page lead story about the suspended basketball coach, who was placed on administrative leave due to charges of illegal gambling filed against him after an investigation by the state attorney’s general office and the state police.

Observer staff estimated the total number of missing copies of the Dec. 2, issue at between 350-450 newspapers.

Six newsstands were discovered empty by staff members, including all of the newsstands in the C building, all the stands in the B building, and the stand outside of the D building.

An additional three full bundles of the Dec.2 student newspapers were also taken from directly outside the Observer’s office on the second floor of the C building. These copies are kept for archiving and to mail tear sheets to the newspaper’s advertisers.

The staff members reported the theft to the public safety department at NECC on Dec. 11.

The disappearance of the newspapers is currently under investigation, and public safety is reviewing security tapes that show video of newsstand locations. Public safety also searched the Dumpsters on campus on Dec.11, but did not find any of the missing copies.

The Observer staff said the newsstands were full on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and believe the newspapers were removed sometime on Thursday, Dec. 10.

Observer staff members were on campus the evening of Dec. 10, covering a home basketball game and a music performance at the tech center and did not note anything suspicious while on campus.

The Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit dedicated to educating student journalists about the First Amendment and supporting the student news media in their struggle to cover issues free from censorship, says that newspaper theft, even of free papers, is a serious issue, especially on the campus of a public college.

Newspaper theft is a “a terribly effective form of censorship,” the Student Press Law Center said on its website. 

“If the perpertrator is a government official – which would include any public school administrator, employee or faculty member – he or she has likely violated the First Amendment,” the center said.

Even free student newspapers are not free, the center said.  “Publishing a student newspaper is an expensive undertaking; student media lose thousands of dollars each year as a result of newspaper theft.  Like other types of theft, newspaper thieves deprive rightful owners of their valuable property … In almost all cases businesses and others have paid to have their advertisements published – money they certainly would not pay if they knew their ad would never be read.”

In the case of the Observer, the Dec. 2 issue had $539 worth of paid advertising, along with printing costs and student staff and adviser stipends, which staff estimate at a more than $1,000 value total.

“Theft of newspapers is a serious issue. It not only is censorship, but it is a direct violation of First Amendment rights. A reporter’s duty to the public is to accurately account stories going on in the community. If the outlet in which a reporter can spread that information becomes hindered, the very foundation for why journalists do what they do crumbles,” said Chad Gorham, Observer campus life editor and president of student senate.

If anyone has any information on the stolen papers, please contact the NECC Observer at observer.necc.mass.edu, twitter @theneccobserver or contact public safety.